Review by MTLH
A good story accompanied by some pretty decent gameplay.
One of the earliest games for the Nintendo DS was Another Code: Two Memories by Cinq, a studio that has since unfortunately closed it's doors. Another Code proved that the point and click adventure genre could work on the handheld. The game was engaging enough but also a bit shallow. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 was Cinq's second game for the machine and is also an adventure game. It is in several ways a departure from Another Code though, making it on the whole a more satisfying experience.
Hotel Dusks visuals are certainly unique. The characters look like they have been drawn or, better yet, sketched with a pencil on white paper. For a reference, it resembles the videoclip of eighties popsong Take on Me by A-ha. They are animated very well, convincingly conveying the appropriate emotions. Combined with the script, the animation makes it joyfully simple to read each character. On the downside, there are unfortunately not all that many individual animation sequences and the transition between them also isnt as smooth as it could have been. On the whole though, these shortcomings didn't really bother me greatly.
The hotel itself is viewed from a first person perspective. The place looks somewhat drab with its predominantly brown colours but that is actually quite appropriate seeing that the Dusk is supposed to be a bit dilapidated . The visuals in this perspective also sport a sketchy, slightly painted look. Due to this style, it doesnt matter all that much that the graphics can also be a bit grainy.
The soundtrack complements the games mood perfectly. Its slightly laidback and jazzy in general and becomes more energetic when it needs to. It occasionally runs the risk of turning into elevator music but the score is inoffensive enough to avoid that becoming a huge problem. The sound effects are simple yet very effective with Hydes footsteps echoing through the halls and doors opening with a satisfying click.
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 revolves around Kyle Hyde, a travelling salesman who used to be a cop. He is obsessed with his former partner on the force, a man named Brian Bradley, who switched sides with the criminal organisation they where investigating. The last time he saw him, Hyde shot Bradley and he has been looking for him ever since, convinced his former partner is still alive. Towards the end of 1979, both his work and obsession bring Hyde to the titular hotel where he hopes to finally get the answers he seeks.
The story forms Hotel Dusk's main attraction so it's fortunate that it's a compelling yarn. Without giving anything away, the game starts out slowly, presenting Hyde with several mysteries, before gradually picking up speed. Eventually the revelations and answers come thick and fast while the reasonably surprising finale draws ever closer. Most of the ten chapters end with a revelation that feed the curiosity as to what will happen in the next one, ensuring that you want to keep on playing.
The portrayal of it's various characters is something Hotel Dusk does particularly well. Although most of them adhere to a certain archetype, they are not quite as one-dimensional as they could have been. What is most striking is how well written and believable they are, both with regards to their own little quirks and how they react to the others. The game's protagonist for instance starts out gruff and rather antisocial but Hyde will eventually warm up to a select few. His basic attitude though remains the same which makes more sense than if he ended the game as a grinning and happy optimist. Dunning, the Dusk's proprietor, also forms a good example in the way he adapts his demeanour to whomever he is speaking with, displaying more than just one tone of voice.
Hotel Dusk's story does have a few issues though. It tends to repeat itself, frequently summarising what has happened and which questions they have raised. This can get a tad annoying after a while as it hampers the plot's pacing. Another issue concerns the suspension of disbelief. Hyde has a reason to stay at the hotel and seeing him stumble on a clue towards finding Bradley doesn't raise an eyebrow in that regard. What does come over as weird is how every single guest and employee ultimately is in some way linked to Hyde's quest, however perilous that link may be. It seems like too much of a coincidence.
As a game, Hotel Dusk is a point and click adventure in which Hyde must explore both the hotel itself as the lives and secrets of it's occupants. There are puzzles to solve but these tend to be rather simple affairs with most involving consulting the inventory. Using a piece of metal wire to open a lock for example or mending a doll with a handily available mechanical sewing machine. The game also offers some more literal ones, such as jigsaw puzzles and match riddles. Most of these puzzles tend to blend in well within Hotel Dusk's narrative but a few can feel out of place, as in that they hinder the plot instead of helping it along.
As mentioned, Hotel Dusk's focus lies with it's plot and that becomes perfectly clear when considering the gameplay proper. Hyde mainly occupies himself by talking with everyone he encounters. Hotel Dusk contains a lot of conversations, with it occasionally being impossible for Hyde to take two steps without having to speak with someone or other. Some conversations have a puzzle element to them in that Hyde must carefully choose his words in order to wring information from those around him. Occasionally he must also present an object to convince or break someone. Those moments are rare though.
One thing that can make playing Hotel Dusk annoying is that it isn't always clear what Hyde should be doing. The game does usually give some directions, notifying you that something must be looked into for instance. The hotel is also not that big a place. Still, it happens too often that Hyde must speak with a particular person only for him or her being nowhere to be found including their own hotelroom. It becomes even more annoying when their availability is eventually triggered by a wholly unrelated event. Some of the puzzles also suffer from this kind of vagueness where enacting a, possibly apparent, solution can become a matter of guessing what the designer wants you to do. One example involves circling out two pieces of handwriting on a note, where it is obvious which pieces should be marked, but where the game only accepts one particular encirclement as the correct one.
The game is played by holding the Nintendo DS sideways like a book and can be completely controlled by using the touch screen. The left screen shows a first person view of the world while the touch screen on the right displays a map with characters being represented by circles. When Hyde interacts with someone or something, his portrait appears on the left screen while the other shows what he is handling or with whom he is speaking. Moving about, panning the view around, selecting objects and using the inventory and other menus are all done by tapping the screen. A nice touch is that Hyde carries a notebook with him which can be used for, well, making notes. With it's thick lines, the writing isn't especially refined but it does come in handy. Most relevant information is automatically scribbled down though.
Hotel Dusk will not be finished in a hurry. It lasts for about fifteen hours which isn't too shabby. A good amount of that time will be spend reading text but that doesn't have to be a huge problem. It's an inherent part of the experience as Hotel Dusk is primarily a narrative focused game. As such, it will certainly give the fans of this type of game something to get to grips with. There are also a few slightly different endings go for which can add to Hotel Dusk's longevity.
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 mostly concerns itself with it's plot, putting it's actual gameplay in second place. That is not to say that the puzzles, exploration and investigation are somehow bad or boring, just that they never become more than a minor hindrance in the story's flow. Even more so than Another Code or something similar like the Ace Attorney series, Hotel Dusk has it's players scrolling through one piece of text after another. Fortunately the game tells a good yarn so it didn't really bother me. Those that want more 'game' from their games should look elsewhere.
For those that choose to stay around for the ride, Hotel Dusk offers a fine experience. There are a few issues here and there though. The plot does contain a fair share of incredulous coincidences and the game also has you guessing about what you should be doing a few too many times. Even so, those issues don't spoil Hotel Dusk all that much and it's engrossing enough to catch your attention till the very end.
OVERALL: a solid 8,0.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (EU, 04/13/07)
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